WESTMINSTER — From his seat in a middle pew, the Rev. Clifford Webner got a chanceto see what he looks like behind the pulpit.
"Do I look that silly up there?" the pastor of Salem United Methodist Church joked Fridayas he watched the youth group imitate his preaching style while practicing the service for Sunday.
"Now we get to laugh at you," they called back as Webner got up to rehearse his benediction.
As part of United Methodist Student Day, the pastor took a welcome vacation from his preaching duties this week. The youth groups at both Salem and Taylorsville United Methodist churches performed a "Hanging of the Greens" service for their respective congregations, decorating the church for Christmas.
Webner is the pastor for both churches.
"A few years ago, the adults did this service, but it's the first time the kids have done it," Webner said. "Student Day happened to fall on the first Sunday in Advent, sowe thought the (Hanging of the Greens) was a good service to have."
As each piece is added -- Advent wreath, poinsettias, greens, tree, lights and bells -- a youth member describes the religious significance of the decoration.
For example, the congregation is told the poinsettia's star-like shape reminds us of the star of Bethlehem, while its blood-red color foretells Christ's crucifixion; the white lights on the tree are a symbol of God's pure, unselfish love that encompasses everyone.
"We become so familiar with seeing the symbols, and this gives the kids a firsthand chance to learn what they mean and be actively involved in a service," Webner said.
"We don't see thekids enough during worship," he said.
Patti Barnes, leader of thegroup, said the students were more likely to remember the symbolism since they were involved in presenting it to the congregation.
"They could sit here in church and hear the service, but that wouldn't have as much of an impact as when they speak it over and over," Barnessaid. "Now, they all know what it means, better than some of the adults do."
Other highlights of the service included the cherub choirof the youngest Sunday School students singing "Away In a Manger" and a mini-play within the service depicting the legend of the cathedral bells that refused to ring.
As 12-year-old Megan Barnes told howGod refused to let the bells ring until the congregation had given asatisfactory gift, Sunday school students representing the villagersbrought gifts to the altar.
Even after the king -- played by Jesse Muller, 10 -- presented his crown, the bells remained silent. Only when 6-year-old Doug Lowe, as the poor beggar child, donated his lastpiece of silver to be used for food did the bells ring.
Jaime Hunt, 8, played the messenger who brought God's decision that the congregation's gifts weren't satisfactory.
In all, the 10 members of Salem's fledgling youth group said they enjoyed presenting the service.
"I learned a lot about traditions and cultures," said 13-year-old Kevin Klekner, co-president of the group, who opened and closed the service with the other co-president, 14-year-old Carrie Barnes. "But there was a lot of stress in the preparation."
Services like this one -- and the group as a whole -- help bring older and younger members together, said Lynn Aaron, assistant youth leader.
"The purpose is to make them feel they are all part of a community," she said. "The teens and the elders all feel comfortable together here and have a lot of respect for each other.
"The elders sense that things in the church will go on, and the kids learn the traditions from the elders."
In addition, the group helps students feel better about their church membership during a time when most teens are not actively involved in religion.
"In today's society, sometimes it's hard to fit in, and (the kids) are kind of quiet about the types of organizationsthey're in, especially if it's church-related," Barnes said. "Here, they have someone to talk to among themselves, someone they can relate to about church."